I wrote recently that it’s difficult to be a writer in a foreign country.

An example happened to me last week.

I was at Hampstead tube, and the ticket collector had a new walkie-talkie.

He was obviously very proud of it.

He spoke into it loudly enough for us all to hear.

He said:

“Tango 1 calling Tango 2.

Tango 1 calling Tango 2.


I heard a muffled voice reply something.

Then the ticket collector said testily into it:

“No Chris: you’re Tango 3, Terry’s Tango 2.”

I laughed to myself, and thought something that silly could only happen in this country. It makes you proud to be British.

Then I thought, why is that?

Why are we so proud of looking silly?

Germans or Spanish or Chinese would die before they’d let anyone see them looking silly.

We revel in it.

Take the war in Afghanistan.

The British and American forces were involved in really heavy fighting with the Taliban.

The worst of the fighting was in and around the caves of Tora Bora.

The American forces dubbed them, ‘The Caves of Death’.

The British forces referred to them as, ‘Tora Bora Tomkinson’.

Later I read a report about the airborne tanker crews.

The American pilots were flying missions from carriers in The Gulf.

They didn’t have enough fuel to make the return trip unless they refuelled at night, 30,000 feet up, from British airborne tankers.

One American pilot said, “These guys flew missions that saved our lives. But when we linked up with them, they held signs up to the window saying, CASH ONLY, NO CHEQUES.

I don’t know, is that your humour?”

The same thing happened in World War 2.

It was 1940 and America wasn’t in the war.

France had just fallen and everyone knew Britain was next.

Ed Murrow, the famous American reporter, was doing a weekly radio broadcast back to the US from London.

He said,

“Sometimes it’s hard for an American to understand the British.

Today the whole of Europe has fallen to Nazi Germany.

Only the people of this small island are  left, on their own against a mighty war machine.

And yet as I went on the street this morning, the mood of the population seemed somehow lighter, more optimistic.

It didn’t make any sense.

Then I saw a newspaper seller with a placard in front of him that read, BRITAIN AND GERMANY IN THE FINAL.”